LITTLE ROCK — The state has begun seeking proposals for locating a new veterans home authorized by the Legislature this year, members of a state task force created to oversee the project heard Thursday.
Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, told the Arkansas Veterans’ Home Task Force that the state Economic Development Commission has sent general information on the type of property needed — a minimum of 20 acres, easy public access and proximity to health care and medical facilities — to local economic development groups across the state. Proposals are due in early July, she said.
"It’s going out to every single economic development person in Arkansas and every city, so anybody who has an interest or feels that they might like to submit a proposal … that is open for them to do and we will accept proposals until July 3," English said.
"The atmosphere is really, really important on this whole thing. It’s not just a building, a building on some piece of dirt. It’s looking at both today and the future," she said. "We set a minimum of 20 acres so there is room for expansion, there is a place to have nice trees, or grass, not concrete or fences. It’s very important for it to be a place where families will want to come and visit."
The location also must be accommodating to traffic, must be supported by the community and be close to shops and stores, English said.
The 22-member task force was created during this year’s legislative session to help plan for a new veterans home to replace an old facility in Little Rock that was closed last summer after failing building and health code inspections. All of the nearly 70 veterans at the facility were relocated to other nursing home or assisted living facilities.
This year, the Legislature approved enabling legislation for the new facility, along with with $7.5 million in funding. The state’s congressional delegation has expressed optimism that $14 million in federal matching funds will be approved.
Also on the list of criteria that property for the new home will need to meet is utilities, including high speed Internet access, and proximity to public transportation.
The new home is to house up to 150 veterans and provide day care, assisted living, a nursing home, dementia care and hospice.
State Department of Veterans Affairs Director Alicia "Cissy" Rucker said dementia care is needed because of the rising number of veterans with traumatic brain injuries, which leads to dementia. She said nursing home care and assisted living options also are key.
Rucker said hospice and day care facilities are costly, and said she was not sure if they could be included in the estimated $21 million cost.
"We want to make sure we do it right, we run it and we maintain it, our veterans deserve it," Rucker said after the task force meeting. "But the state of Arkansas needs our due diligence to take care of the taxpayer dollars, providing the best we can at the same time."
English said the proposals submitted will determine whether property for the facility will have to be purchased or if it would be donated. Three task force members were selected to evaluate the proposals and make recommendations to the full panel.
Edwards said the new facility likely will be located in Central Arkansas because that is where most of the veterans live.
He and others on the task force questioned a facility design developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and presented to the panel. It showed the new veterans home as a series of cottages with a main facility for nursing home care, which panel members said would be more expensive to construct and maintain than a single building.
Charles Johnson, deputy director of the agency, said no final decision has been made on the design and that the drawing was being used to hold the state’s spot in the grant application process.